March 4, 2006
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. _ Calling it the "Battle of State of Franklin Road" just doesn't sound right.
After 20 conference games both the Bisons and Bruins finished with 15-5 records. After sorting through the tiebreakers the Bisons were awarded the No. 1 seed in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament and the Bruins were given the No. 2 seed.
Saturday at 1 p.m. CST the two teams meet for the conference title with the victor heading to the NCAA Tournament. The trip would be the first for both teams.
Regardless of the location, when the Bisons and Bruins meet it is always known as the "Battle of the Boulevard". The two teams split in the regular season with the Bisons winning 97-85 in overtime at Allen Arena Jan. 20 and the Bruins winning 81-65 at Belmont Jan. 31. This time around the game may be at a neutral site at East Tennessee State's Memorial Center, but expect this to be the most intense meeting in the history of the rivalry.
"It will be exciting," said Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson. "I think we need to get in the car, drive home and play it in Allen Arena."
The Bisons advanced to the championship game for the first time with a 70-51 victory over Gardner-Webb Friday night. The Bruins beat Stetson 72-59 in the nightcap.
"We respect Belmont," said Sanderson. "We are two programs on the rise. They try to do it the right way like we do. I think it will be an absolute classic."
In the old NAIA days Lipscomb and Belmont often found themselves battling each other for conference championships, but this time around the stakes are higher.
"In the late 80s, early 90s and mid-90s we played for a lot of conference championships," said Belmont coach Rick Byrd. "One of these schools is going to go to the NCAA Tournament and that is going to be a special moment.
"I'm so impressed with the job Scott has done. I was scared watching those guys play against Gardner-Webb. They were very, very good. We are going to have to play much better than we have the last two games to even be in this game."